At the start of the football season, few would have put money on the Borderites making it to state playoffs. After all, they hadn’t done it in three years, even with a stacked team and the best running back in the state.
This year’s team had few standouts from the previous years, but by diversifying their offense and beefing up their defense, the Borderites were able to put together a winning season and march to the state tournament. According to coaches, that wouldn’t have been possible without strong leadership from the senior class. Everyone on the team displayed a winning attitude, but no one typified the team spirit better than seniors Jon Stewart and Cole Muder.
Teams that come out strong and ready to play enjoy better success than those that come out flat, and there’s nothing like an
impassioned pre-game speech from a team leader to get everyone ready for battle. Coaches called Jon Stewart the vocal leader of the team because, as a middle linebacker, he directed the defense with audibles on the field. He also got the team amped to play before every game.
“I would say whatever was in my heart at that moment. It usually got everyone pumped up to go play hard,” Stewart said, referring to his pre-game speeches.
The 17-year-old started playing football in seventh grade, along with many other seniors on this year’s team. Playing together over the years has led to a tight-knit group. Teamwork allowed the Borderites to overcome a shaky start to the season and an injury to starting quarterback Nate Kramme, Stewart said.
“We knew the beginning of the season was going to be tough,” Stewart said. “We’d rather face those tough teams early in the season than play teams we would whoop, because it tells us that we need to improve each game,” he said. Early losses exposed holes in the defense that were quickly shored up.
“Over the course of the season our middle line got bigger with guys like Jon Fakkema, Adam McShane and Mike Antczak stepping in. When the Bellingham game rolled around everything got set in stone. We knew what each other’s job was and basically trusted everybody to do it,” he said.
It was during a foggy game at Meridian, halfway through the season, that the team’s character was truly tested. Kramme, a junior who had been responsible for leading the offense and posting significant passing and rushing yardage up until that point, went down with a knee injury early in the game.
“When Nate got hurt, we were all shocked,” Stewart said. “He’s kind of the invincible guy on the team. He always gets up. When he went down we realized that we all had to step up our game.”
Freshman quarterback Marcus Potts stepped into a high-stakes game that would set the tone for the rest of the season, and the Borderites overcame a 21–7 deficit to win 24–21.
“Marcus was kind of wide-eyed at the beginning, but we picked him up just like we pick up everyone else on the team, and he did a great job,” Stewart said. “When one guy goes down, we bring another guy up.”
As a wrestler, Stewart knows the importance of good conditioning, and coaches were grateful to have an experienced senior
leading fitness routines over the summer and throughout the season.
“For conditioning, I’d give Jon my watch and he’d take care of the rest,” head coach Jay Dodd said. “He was a tremendous leader for this football team.”
“Since about my freshman year, I’ve had this mentality that the only way to get better is to work harder than everyone else,” Stewart said, “so I was always in the weight room.”
Stewart said he’d relish the chance to continue playing football in college, and he’s eyeing several colleges, such as Old Dominion and Jackson State on the east coast, and Eastern Washington and Whatcom Community College closer to home.
As the producer of most of Blaine’s offensive yardage, running back Cole Muder was obviously pivotal to the team’s success, but coaches said his demonstrative leadership was equally important.
“He kept picking himself up and running back to the huddle. When you see that time and time again, you’re going to want to do everything you can to block for him and work just as hard as he does,” Dodd said.
Muder’s toughness was on display in every game. Two games into the season, Muder broke his right hand. He taped it for a couple games before finally getting it x-rayed and splinted.
“It only hurt when I was blocking,” Muder said. “It didn’t affect handoffs.”
That’s lucky for him, because he carried the ball an average of 25 times per game and posted a season total of 1,480 rushing yards. The season continues for a few teams still in state playoffs, but Muder’s yardage makes him one of the top ten running backs in the state this year.
Muder is quick to give credit to the rest of his team.
“Jon Stewart, Andrey Baydak, Jon Fakkema, Adam McShane, Brian Ferrer – everyone helped us keep this team together,” Muder said. “We thought as one, not as individuals.”
If there were one game that defined the Borderites’ season for Muder, it was the Meridian game.
“That was a smash-mouth game that proved our toughness and proved we could play even with our starting quarterback down,” he said.
The 17-year-old started playing flag football in the third grade. His dad was on the state championship cross-country team for Ferndale in 1976. His uncles played football, but Muder’s attraction to the sport was self-induced.
“Mostly I just wanted to play football with my friends,” he said. That same group of friends continued playing together right up through high school.
“It helped with our team chemistry. We knew each other’s playing styles, and we knew when something was wrong. If someone was down we know how to pick them back up,” he said.
Coming into the season, Muder had to fill running back Mario Gobbato’s big shoes. Gobbato broke the state record for rushing yardage in 2012 with 2,821 yards, and he now plays for Montana State Northern.
“The way [Gobbato] approached the game and the way he worked was amazing. He’s a workhorse, and I tried to model myself on that,” Muder said. Throughout the season, Muder said he got better at reading defenses and being a utility back who could play in any game situation.
Looking back at the season, Muder said he’s pretty satisfied with the tone he helped set for the future of Borderite football.
“I feel like we set the tone again for the next year to have the expectation of going to state,” he said. “Obviously we would have preferred to keep winning, but I’m happy with how we played. We always had confidence that we could do better and do more.”